Power/Knowledge

Essay I

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

“We should admit rather that power produces knowledge…that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (27, DP)

Who I am has become a question that places my consciousness as an effect of power/knowledge.  The conditions that produced the embodied and acting ‘thinking-thing’ are more on the side of rendering useless a subjectivity that ‘I thought I had’.  Though, its arrival is in some since a miracle (un-signified, utter rupture), it also maps a genealogy of the “modern soul and of a new power to judge.” (23, DP)  I am that product of disciplinary forms of power/knowledge; a body inseparable from the political field that constitutes its agency, inseparable from the mechanism of law, labor, and institutions that insists on its subjugation and productivity. (26, DP)  I am ‘en-souled’ to the extent I am an instrument of political anatomy and not the other way around, “A ‘soul’ inhabits him and brings him to existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body…the soul is the prison of the body.” (30, DP)

Free the body from the soul; accept contradictory revolts; be against comfort; map the micro-physics of power and practice pushing on its edges; position self/body in strategic refusal to domination despite its hopelessness; visiblize knowledge/power configurations through marking particular points of its own discontinuity and inversion; make a life that is always already writing a history of the present.

The mechanisms of power/knowledge through discipline and punish were present from an early age.  I recall the last time physical discipline/punishment met my body when my father spanked me.  He directed his call with authority – I understood that to pop the balloon I was sitting on would be disobeying.  My mother sits watching me.  Her own strategy of refusals was now an embodied force in her son’s act – hints of foreshadowing into the coming divorce.  I popped the balloon.  I didn’t believe he would discipline me, spank me; it was such a mundane act – no one needed the balloon; it was my balloon.  I explicitly remember asking, begging ‘why’.  My father’s answer was and still is – ‘because you disobeyed me’.

In this event, it was not the balloon that mattered.  The balloon’s survival was inconsequential – it could have been a loaf of bread – anything.  My spanking was, of course, a ceremonial act.  It represented the extra-legal measure of bodily enforcement – a deterrent, a purging of the crime.  The whelps and shame flowing from the act was the sacrament of justice being expressed in all its force. (34, DP)  It was the system of patriarchal duty, an Adamic/Abrahamic legacy of authority becoming material through my father’s hand.  It signified a disciplinary measure not only on my body’s future, but also on my mothers – it was an engendered act.  It was an economy that had its most intensive effects not on the body of the ‘criminal’ but on those who have not committed crime; those within whom the sovereign’s vulnerability lies – the masses – or in this case my mother. (94, DP)  My spanking was a protection against future household disorder; it was a protection against the act of household refusal/disobedience becoming widespread – protection against the seed of refusal my act bore within it.  (93, DP)

The disciplinary measure was staged against the refusal I represented and its confrontation with power; it was staged indirectly against the refusal of my mother.  I was challenging – even making mockery – the authority in my ‘father’s no’.  In that challenge his power was called to act, to exemplify and mark the body of dissent.  In my disobedience I revealed the discontinuity of his power; the powerlessness of my father’s correction, guidance, truth.  I rendered that power – like the criminal’s act reveals the power of the sovereign – power-less, ineffectual, void.  “The crime attacks the sovereign: it attacks him personally, since the law represents the will of the sovereign; it attacks him physically, since the force of the law is the force of the prince.” (47, DP)

The economy of exemplification rapped up in my father’s act was rendered useless before the punishment even arrived.  His position of intrinsic moral superiority was marked absent, signed vacant.  He met a removal and dislodging of his own identity through the pain my body signified.  My mother’s power of resistance was dawning as the embodied refusal in me – a trajectory that would eventually lead to her divorce from my father; an act that for my father, represented his greatest fear and failure, and for my mother was at once the culmination of her greatest strength and her sadistic guilt.  I, my mother and my father were rapped up in a confusion/coalescence of power dynamics spoken so loudly and lived so thoroughly they silenced conversation for a quarter of a generation.

That act of disobedience constituted not only a challenge to my ‘father’s no’ and that form of power that punishes, but it also signified a gap in the ‘order of things’.  “The ‘no’ through which this gap is created does not imply the absence of a real individual who bears the father’s name; rather, it implies that the father has never assumed the role of nomination and that the position of the signifier, through which the father names himself and, according to the Law, through which he is able to name, has remained vacant…the catastrophe of the signifier.” (82, LCP)  I was not ‘disobeying my father’ I was using my mother’s power/knowledge to transgress a household limit.  The gap, the space, was always already present; the event finalized the embodied or enacted dissent, and in so doing disarmed the location of codified power – clearing space for difference, distance, and a reconfiguring of boundaries. (35, LCP)

It was the last time he spanked me.  At the age of five years old I brought the sign of my father’s authority into question and begin distancing myself from that familial, social, and cultural legality.  When the double moment of truth arrived, in the infraction and the punishment, this family entered a game that like the scaffold, “…did not re-establish justice; it reactivated power.” (49, DP)  I began to play with powers.  It was the moment of my determined autonomy and refusal against the calculated fascism of discipline and punishment.  It was the event that created me; it ‘reactivated power’ – my power – to decide to live beyond the absent sign, an absent authority.  The sign of authority is forever exposed.  From its first moment of subtle arrival its trajectory was an inevitable glorification of transgression.  A subtle process of authoritic erosion marked my family until its eventual disintegration or reorientation.  It’s lived result in me: no more was my family able to guard or discipline my moves; there was a mastery of body calculations which performed for acceptability, docility, and ‘freedom’ – a performance because it was also a strategy ordered sufficiently to avoid complications that I desired remain hidden.  A desire for new forms of disciplinary power through which to do ‘perpetual battle’ required I cross the boundaries of greater spheres of legality.

I am still confounded by my inability to act without the ‘father’s no’.  Despite its re-lived tendency to implode I call its presence down.  I want disciplinary power: its face – it to face me.  I live as a body aiming transgression toward the limits of law.  I intend on it proving itself to me because it is what has created me.  It that believes in its own authority to perform transgressions – an ‘authority’ as absent as the father, as absent and exposed as Foucault makes its history: a genealogy of unequivocal command, of the power of legality, persuasion, and dominance; a technology of infinite inquisition. (227, DP)

I have a problem colliding against representatives of authority.  I repeat it.  My suspicion repeats a multiform language seeking to defy configurations power/knowledge – to create them.  The collision of power/knowledge in my family, its effects as assimilation and utter rupture continued in an embodied tendency toward conflict and understanding with state representatives – police officers: the only space I knew that demanded/commanded docility and obedience with such a uniformed and uncontested presence.  The reason ‘I’ exist within a state; or rather that the state existed me: to play with it; transgress it; throw it new language and wrestle its program of docility-utility, as an object to control, as a disciplinary body.

Essay II

Language, Counter-Memory, Practice

Who I am and how I think both signify my own confrontation with histories of enemies and traitors – repetitions of internal and external others.  An idea of language, counter-memory, and practice demands, the “multiplication of meaning through the practice of vigilant repetitions.”  (9, LCP)

I practice repetition.  It seems to be an endless confusion of cyclical forces that transform my ‘theory’.  My lived trajectory of defiance which surpassed the authority of my ‘father’s no’ has landed me both on the sidewalk of flashing lights, walking lines, and breathalyzers and in the classrooms of confrontation, discussion and renewal of language.

My relationship with police officers has been the most blatant mode of defining what my relationship to authority would constitute – how I arrive defiant, resistant, refusing the most uniformed embodiment of statist power.  This relationship, as it directly addresses the themes presented above through a situated reading of Discipline and Punish, has an equation that is an effect of genealogical work.  This work of history makes absent not only the authority of the ‘father’ but the location of power/knowledge exercised by the state.  The ‘nomination’ of authority has never been in place.  Its uniformed representatives are its instrumentality of protection against its unlikely and systemically contradictory existence.

The police embody the discovery that the body is the object and target of disciplinary power.  S/he is the civil soldier, baring signs and arms.  S/he is the front line of statist power whose disciplinary measures operating on the side of legality could kill, confine, or remove the freedom of my body.  This disturbing fact, like the reality of the prison, is the moment power does not hide or mask itself; it reveals itself as bio-political tyranny – a tyranny that my perpetual conflict with localized pockets of power seeks for experimentation and practice.

Hours of my mental space have warred against this tyranny.  I now turn to practices that translate this theory, make it useful.  This war – ‘perpetual conflict’ – has discovered its own discontinuity and “the sacrifice of the subject of knowledge.” (162, LCP)  On the side of the road, pulled over on my bicycle, twenty minute conversations spin around a contested space of power/knowledge configurations.  I went from felon to free in twenty minutes of circulating language games that included my declaration: “You have the gun officer.”  An originary moment of confession – repeated, mirrored, repeated, mirrored; an affirmation of a will toward a progressive enslavement that for all its talk – only wanted not to die.  “Perhaps even speaking so as not to die…” was my discovery of a situated self in the officer whose full intention was to have his power effective against all odds.  His effort spoke for the law as powerfully as if his identity was dependent on its perfect certainty.  It made manifest his authority that assured, ‘the action of society on each individual.’ (96, DP)  His power must be effective because it was the embodied power of disciplinary society acting on an individual – a living aporia as even the people on street jeered him.  He asked me to rise-up off my knees at one point, a position I had taken only to remove my backpack yet one whose aggressive submission revealed a calculation of disciplinary knowledge and an imbalance of excess. (49, DP)  He had so much power I became the exception, the transgression during the course of our conversation.  The people were on my side and I stood against the law which supported their common cause.  I had broken the law and yet I would go free.

A month ago I was pulled over on my bicycle again.  Here I was quick to pull over and quicker to state the facts, align my confession with his perfect sight/perfect certainty, and affirm his position of power as one whose duty made it possible, not as an effect of his individual interiority.  He was delighted to speak with me and pleased to offer his best advice.  I was issued a four hundred dollar ticket for running a red light on a bicycle, and I have never had so much success in communicating, affirming, and removing all significant power/knowledge barriers with an officer of the law.  It was a delightful exchange – it was a transgression and a rupture insofar that I became the law before it had to be enforced.  The ticket was thrown out of court.

In both instances, I left with freedom.  But the second encounter I more successfully sacrificed myself – a sacrifice that is a use of history in its commitments to neutrality, truth, and a will to knowledge. (162, LCP)  It is not the calculation of perspective that allows one to understand the ‘other-as-same’, rather it is the perspective of history that ‘mimics death in order to enter the kingdom of the dead.’ (158, LCP)

What has become manifest in my relationship to police officers is an ability to shape-shift or practice counter-memory or an identity of difference.  The intersections of my theory and practice aim at “revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious.” (208, LCP)  The subject of knowledge, that levels playing fields of power, views history not only creative but absent, not only parodic but dissociative, not only empirical but sacrificial.  Nietzsche’s grasp of history speaks of an inversion – multiple inversions – that rid its attempt at codification and singularity.  It demands transformations and transgressions of time.  It forces limits of history and language into spaces of risk and experimentation, reconfigured space, and a profusion of entangled events.  (155, LCP)  As a product of repetitious enslavement to experimentation the police become windows of opportunity – authors of social discourse with whom I collaborate, practice, and re-read, even write.

The trajectory of dissonance, defiance, and refusal meets a history that shows the opposite and even something completely different.  Discerning an internal/external enemy at the gates of my familial life reads neglect at the center of memory rather than something different which would be more accurate.  I lived a wonderful childhood.  Mostly, I was not spanked.  Mostly, I behaved.  I through education, not familial life, found most of my enemies and I found them located in the re-reading of my history.  I found a history of counter-memory that challenged not only my theory but my practice.

Meeting genealogies of present which map Biblical disenchantment and God delusion interrupts conformities to those legal boundaries which both Bible and God governed.  The subject I thought I was thinking was not placeable.  I encountered a dislocation of subject and its sacrifice seemed to be ever-present, repeating as much as the language shifted.  I discovered ‘effective’ history uprooting power/knowledge and its own pretended continuity.  “History becomes ‘effective’ to the degree that it introduces discontinuity into our very being…because knowledge is not made from understanding; it is made for cutting.” (154, LCP)

What is made visible becomes confrontation, struggle, and instability in the very genetic make-up constituting power/knowledge.  Entering-in or interrupting configurations of power/knowledge remove the strategic positioning of dominance and body conformity.  This learning has been the opposite of ‘developing consciousness’.  It has been a challenge of freedom itself.  It has born within it a subject whose interest is in sapping power or taking power.  “It is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination from a safe distance.  A ‘theory’ is the regional system of this struggle.” (208, LCP)

Challenge authority; expose its veins of vulnerability and strike/release.  Position yourself in strategic relationships to power that offer complementary, antagonistic, and sustainable forces; put to death all that resists the forms of life willing to birth.  Exercise power that recognizes the intra-dependent subject at the center of its agency; maintaining life through pain; being a becoming toward ‘death-torture’ – a being that determines the self, situates the body, lives beyond the judgment and transgresses the limits.

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